Light Mode

Penelope Cruz Makes a Welcome Return in ‘Volver’

Best known of late for middling Hollywood fare like Sahara, Head in the Clouds and the long-shelved Bandidas and high-profile romances with Matthew McConaughey and Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz has reclaimed her cred as one of European cinema’s finest actresses with her latest effort, Volver. She won Best Actress honors at the Hollywood Film Festival and shared a similar award at Cannes with her female co-stars, which generated early Oscar buzz for her performance as working class earth mother Raimunda in her third collaboration with director Pedro Almodovar.

Defying easy categorization, Volver (Spanish for “return”) blends comedy, family drama, mysticism and suspense, and Cruz, at ease in her native Spanish language, handles the tonal shifts with grace, passion and sensuality.

“She can be, like very strong women, a survivor, someone who fights against big problems because she’s like that; it’s part of her personality,” said Almodovar of his leading lady, using an interpreter for some of his responses at a recent press conference. “But also she has something very fragile, a kind of vulnerability that I needed also for the character. It was that mixture that made her perfect for the movie. And when we started rehearsing I was more secure that she was the best choice.”

- Advertisement -

The director thought, however, that the Madrid-born beauty needed some prosthetic enhancement to achieve the voluptuous look he wanted. “To me the mother, the iconography of the mother, is related directly with good breasts and good butt,” Almodovar explained. “The breasts she has naturally but the butt wasn’t enough for me. I was thinking Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani and all the others, that type of housewife. These women are more curvaceous and Penelope doesn’t have that. I needed someone a little bit more worn out, heavier, more rooted to the earth. She walked in a very different way, having this weight here,” he noted, pointing to his rear end.

“He liked what it did for the way I moved and walked, for the energy of the character,” Cruz concurred, happy to do anything Almodovar asked of her. “I’m obsessed with him… he just loves women and he observes really well. [He can] write characters for women that are 60 and 80 and every generation,” she raved. “We hang out, we watch movies, go to restaurants, talk a lot. He’s company. He feels like family to me.”

At Almodovar’s suggestion, Cruz watched Sophia Loren and Anna Magnani movies to get the earth-mother feel he sought, and she’s flattered by comparisons that put her in their company, Loren’s in particular. ”It’s too big of a compliment for me because I grew up watching her movies and she is one of my idols. She is a woman that I respect a lot.” The never-married actress looks forward to off-screen motherhood. “I love children and I would love to do it one day—I think I will know when that moment comes,” she said.

As for other future plans, “From now on I’m trying to maybe shoot a little less and spend more time developing my own projects and doing other things that I want to do in my life. Maybe instead of shooting four movies a year I’ll shoot two a year and have some of that time for other things.”

While she doesn’t sing in Volver—Spanish flamenco singer Estrelia Morente dubs her voice—she can, and has 14 years of dance experience so she wouldn’t mind doing a musical. She has completed two films, playing a supporting role in The Good Night, directed by Jake Paltrow and starring his sister Gwyneth, and starring opposite Adrien Brody in Manolete as an actress who has a turbulent affair with the famous Spanish bullfighter. “It’s a love story much more than a movie about bullfighting,” she said.

Not surprisingly, she’d love to work with Almodovar again, and will “when he thinks I am the right person for the character.” Meanwhile, their current collaboration is right on track for Academy Award recognition. “It’s really flattering, and it’s an honor that I am being considered for something like that, but better that I don’t think about it too much…whatever happens will happen,” Cruz reflected. “I am not going to pretend, try to be cool and say, ‘I don’t care.’ Of course it would make me very happy. But better not to expect it.”

- Advertisement -